The 30 Freakiest Ads of 2011

Van Damme to David Lynch, zombies to food phantasmagorias

You've watched the 10 Best Commercials of 2011. Now, it's time to slip into something less comfortable—the 30 Freakiest Ads of 2011. There's a wide variety this year—from the gross to the creepy, the goofy to the terrifying. We've got celebrity actors (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kristen Schaal, Kate Moss) and celebrity directors (David Lynch, Darren Aronofksy). We've got spots from all over the world—Japan, Argentina, Norway, Italy, and plenty from the U.S. We've even got one freaky commercial that also made Adweek's 10-best list. There are fewer gory PSAs than in past years, too, which allows for more unsettling commercial work to sneak in the door. So, after the jump, sit back and soak up the weirdest commercials of the year. Then take a long, hot shower and try to forget about them.

  1. TOYOTA • People Person

    Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles
    Click to view
    Let's start off with a real monstrosity. Did you find the giant Toyota Prius person, made up of lots of normal-size people, to be delightfully enchanting? Or did you find him utterly terrifying? Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles came up with the idea for the creature—a Pilobolus-like beast formed by 18 people linked together, reminiscent of the artwork of Andre Martins de Barros. He was meant to be fanciful, but many found him objectionable. "I'd say the worst part was the nose being someone's butt," wrote one reviewer. "Reminds me just a tad of the Human Centipede."
  2. ZIPPEARZ • Rhythm & Boobs

    Director: David Gott
    Click to view
    Here's one of the more anatomically strange ads of the year. This spot for Zippearz earbuds featured a female jogger whose breasts got frighteningly auto-jiggly with the funky dance beat, much to the dismay/curiosity of a dude sitting nearby on a park bench. "They won't fall out," explains the just-as-crass female voiceover, which is all breathy and sultry—referring to the earbuds, obviously. Not the proudest moment for tech advertising, but certainly a visual that sticks with you.
  3. CARMAX • Kid in a Candy Store

    Agency: Amalgamated, New York
    Click to view
    The most mind-bending commercial from Super Bowl XLV last February, this CarMax spot had a peculiar cast of characters: a kid in a candy store, a geek at a robot convention, a mermaid at a swim meet, a wrestler in a folding-chair factory, a hippie in a drum circle, an acrobat in a mattress store, and of course, a customer at CarMax—lucky souls, all, who feel right at home in their environments. All that was missing, really, was the proverbial pig in muck.
  4. SONIC • Heart's Desire

    Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
    Click to view
    This spot isn't really freaky so much as it is completely awesome. But it descends into a hallucinatory phantasmagoria, so it counts. It opens with a man at a Sonic drive-through being told he can get anything he wants on his burger. This sends him careening into a colorful, crazy daydream full of giant Sonic food floating around and Sonic workers making kaleidoscopic Busby Berkeley moves in roller skates. (The Dude's dream sequence in The Big Lebowski reportedly was an inspiration.) The music tops it off—a parody of "You Can Do Magic" by America, with lyrics that are stupidly and comically forced to rhyme. Throw in some wonderfully goofy acting, and you've got the year's looniest fast-food ad. I'll have what he's having.
  5. ORKIN • Vacation

    Agency: The Richards Group, Dallas
    Click to view
    Orkin has been doing humorously disgusting commercials starring giant insects for a couple of years now. In 2011, the pest-control company added a pair of nasty rats to the mix. These rodents of unusual size were quite musical—they're seen rocking out on guitars in a living room while a family is on vacation. When the homeowners return early, the rats don't scamper and hide. They stand their ground, and one of the rats even hisses, "We could use the boy … on drums." Only when Orkin shows up do the rodents flee, peeling out hilariously in an old-style race car. A wonderful addition to a pleasantly freaky campaign.
  6. ECHO • Exam

    Agency: Cramer-Krasselt, Milwaukee
    Click to view
    Ah, proctology humor. It's one of the oldest and dirtiest tricks in the book. But this spot for Echo power equipment takes it into even nether-er territory. "I put up with a lot," our hero says, as his backside is investigated by a proctologist in full view of some medical students. "But one thing I won't put up with is outdoor power equipment that always breaks down. So, I use professional-grade equipment from Echo." He then whips out a weed whacker. Sure, it was among the year's crassest, most gratuitously stupid commercials—but intentionally so. Give it a little slack, and it won't hurt a bit.
  7. ESPN RADIO • Sports for Your Ears

    Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, New York
    Click to view
    Here it is—the most disturbing anthropomorphized body part from any commercial this year. It's an oversized ear with weird stubby arms and legs who learns to love the ESPN Radio app. The ad has its charms—you get to see a lot about this poor ear's life in 30 seconds. You learn that he's a psychiatrist (a fitting job for an ear), that he enjoys lawn care, that he takes the bus when he travels, and that he owns the world's largest iPhone earbuds (OK, earbud). The spot features some amusing fake brands, too, including Cotton Tips for sensitive ears and the Dogromat self-service dog grooming place. For an ugly little guy, his story is cute enough. Hear, hear!
  8. SRISAWAD TRANSPORT LOAN • Truck

    Agency: CFG Services, Bangkok, Thailand
    Click to view
    This Thai commercial for an auto-loan company truly is an assault on the senses. The frenetic visuals and gut-punching sound design abrasively paint the picture of a family harried to the brink by their hectic life. The last thing they need is a hassle when they try to get cash to buy a car. Luckily, Srisawad Transport Loan gives them money the same day, and lets them breathe what you have to assume is a rare sigh of relief. The weird echo effect at the end is pure local-commercial special effects, yet everything else about the spot is impressively constructed. The judges at Cannes felt the same way, awarding the commercial a Bronze Lion in Film.
  9. OLD SPICE • Jungle Wilderness

    Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
    Click to view
    American viewers got to see plenty of Old Spice ads again this year—but one of the freakiest aired outside the U.S. only. "Jungle Wilderness" featured a new super-suave non-Isaiah-Mustafa spokesman who treks through a jungle in pursuit of a woman, expounding on the merits of the brand's Danger Zone products while getting personally ravaged by snakes, crocodiles, and pirañas. (He also gets hit by a bus.) "Danger excites me. But I can't fully enjoy it when I smell like fear and body odor," he explains. By the end, he's lost all flesh below the waist, becoming a half-skeleton, but he hasn't lost his swagger. "You smell like you look amazing," says his lady friend. You could say the same about the ad.
  10. CRAVENDALE • Milk Me Brian

    Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, London
    Click to view
    Cravendale had a big hit with its amusingly peculiar "Cats With Thumbs" ad this year, which clocked in at No. 8 on Adweek's list of the 10 best commercials of 2011. But this execution was even weirder. It begins with the voiceover line, "Wonder who first thought to milk a cow." Good question. We then go back in time to see various possible scenarios. Eventually, we see a divine bovine apparition descend from the firmament, draped in flowing robes, clutching a Bible and intoning, "Milk me, Brian!" He does so, and becomes a hero to all humankind—or at least, to the creatives on the Cravendale account at W+K London. This year's crème de la crème of crazy milk commercials.

  1. SONY ERICSSON • Kristen Is Killing It

    Agency: McCann Erickson, New York
    Click to view
    Kristen Schaal is one crazy chick. You may remember her as the loony fan-girl from Flight of the Conchords, or from The Daily Show, or from The Simpsons (after they misspelled her name in the credits). But after this year, you may remember her, too, from her Xperia Play ads for Sony Ericsson. Schaal is a weird combination of totally normal seeming and totally nuts, which made her an inspired choice to pitch this phone, which has a business side and a fun side. Nowhere was the dichotomy more hilariously illustrated than in the "Kristen Is Killing It" spot, where Schaal transforms from demure businesswoman into mindless killing machine. Screaming obscenities as she mows down her enemies with an AK-47, she delivered one of the most memorable celebrity endorsements of the year. Triple kill, bitches!
  2. ISPCC • I Can't Wait

    Agency: Ogilvy, Dublin, Ireland
    Click to view
    There weren't as many disturbing PSAs in 2011 compared to past years. But this anti-child-abuse appeal from Ogilvy Dublin was painfully visceral. The brutal PSA, funded by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, aimed to galvanize viewers into financially supporting the fight for children's rights by laying bare the emotional and physical toll of abuse. It shows a boy being beaten up at home while still managing to articulate, in grown-up language, a manifesto for what children deserve in life—and the future he dreams for himself in a present that's unbearable. Heartbreaking yet inspiring, it was one of the year's most powerful PSAs.
  3. DISCOUNTHOTELS.COM • EggHeads

    Agency: Stately Mansion, Marina del Rey, Calif.
    Click to view
    Here's a real WTF commercial. It features a family of eggheads—literal ones, with giant white orbs atop their bodies. Mom and Dad are watching as Junior tries karate—with nasty, messy results. "If you're an egghead, putting your son in karate doesn't make a lot of sense. Neither does paying too much for a hotel room," says the voiceover. The connection to the brand is gratuitous and stupid, and the spot as a whole is embarrassingly lame. But the gushing, dribbly yolk-face is a sight not soon forgotten.
  4. VIVIDENT • Unexpected Turn

    Agency: Selection SRL, Milan, Italy
    Click to view
    Here's some oddvertising in the candy/gum category—a weird and randomly disturbing Italian spot for Vivident gum, featuring some family secrets best left undiscovered. The father who whips out his man-boobs was certainly one of the most shocking ad characters of the year. And the son who turns into a marionette is creepy as well. Once again, though, the connection to the brand couldn't be more indiscriminate. "If you like unexpected turns, you should try Vivident Blast," says the spokesman, who then gets squashed by a whale at the end. Lame. But hey—man-boobs and marionettes.
  5. BJORG JEWELLERY • Heresy

    Directors: Matias & Mathias
    Click to view
    Speaking of nonsensical—it isn't just candy advertisers who've perfected it. High-fashion advertisers are right there, too. Among the year's most ludicrous fashion-related spots was this loony film from Norway's Bjørg Jewellery in which a woman gets burned at the stake. Why is she burned at the stake? Don't ask why—this is art! (Well, it's artful . . . well, OK, it's just kind of stupid.) For some reason, Bjørg left the disclaimer off this ad: Unless you are certain your friend is a witch, do not try this at home.
  6. BASEMENT • Rabbit

    Director: Martin Romanella
    Click to view
    Here's another depraved fashion commercial, this time with a celebrity kick—Kate Moss seducing a giant bunny for Chilean clothier Basement. Kate's had a tough time in the dating department over the years, but this seemed desperate. There's plenty of suggestive imagery in the ads, including Kate offering a big bunch of carrots for her furry friend to munch on (or find some other use for). At the end, we see Kate the next morning, surrounded by dozens of little baby bunnies—yet another reminder that shacking up with a non-human character from Donnie Darko is never a good idea.
  7. THE METH PROJECT • Deep End

    Agency: Organic Inc., San Francisco
    Click to view
    This list wouldn't be complete without a terrifying anti-drug PSA, and here's one of the most harrowing—an anti-meth spot directed by Darren Aronofsky, part of a series the Hollywood director did this year. Aronofsky knows a little something about the horrors of addiction, having made Requiem for a Dream. There are no amputated limbs or double-ended dildos in his PSAs, but the campaign's message was similar—that drugs lead to all manner of physical, emotional and sexual degradation. Visually, the spots frighteningly transition from the floaty, foggy dreamworld of a user's high to the harsh realities of his or her shocking self-destruction. There's been plenty of shocking anti-meth ads in recent years, but this work topped them all.
  8. THELOGOFF.ORG • Mommy Facebook Song

    Agency: Barton F. Graf 9000, New York
    Click to view
    Know any moms who spend way too much time on Facebook, leaving their kids isolated and furious and singing about their predicament for all the world to hear? Then this is the PSA for you. Created by Gerry Graf and Harold Einstein, the mini-musical encourages moms everywhere to put down the laptop already and play with their kids. It was an unbranded effort, but it did appear on (and was sponsored by) the parenting Web portal MomFilter.com. The spot sends you to thelogoff.org, which simply tells you to "log off . . . at least for a little while." Graf said the point was to "promote online moderation." In one of the oddest ways imaginable.
  9. ACTIVISION • Zombie Lab

    Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles
    Click to view
    Zombies—they're everywhere these days. And nowhere were they more alarming than in this disgustingly amusing two-minute spot for Call of Duty: Black Ops Rezurrection, the final chapter in the Activision franchise's zombie gaming saga. The setting is a test-lab facility, only here the scientists are working not to create a better condom or Cheeto but to find optimal ways of surviving and destroying the undead. One creature gets shot with a laser and promptly explodes. Another is forced to run on a treadmill, humiliatingly pursuing a dangling brain. (He eventually gets his lunch, and it's fresher than he could've imagined.) "What we're doing here is something special—getting to know zombies inside and out," says the deadpan voiceover, as a janitor slips while wet-vac-ing zombie parts. Comical and nasty—the year's best zombie spot.
  10. PROENZA SCHOULER • Snowballs

    Director: Harmony Korine
    Click to view
    You want a weird ad? Get a weird director. Fashion line Proenza Schouler followed that logic this year with its controversial spot directed by Harmony Korine promoting the brand's Native American-inspired fall clothing. In the film, two white-masked, war-bonneted, helium-voiced girls wander around the economically depressed Southwest singing lines like, "Oh man, we are trouble. We love trouble … We dance on raindrops. We are God's children." Feel like buying the clothes yet? There are teepees, trailers and a potbellied guy whose fingertips burst into flames like candles. The ad was criticized for being racist, but really it was just self-consciously odd. In an interview, Korine said it was inspired by a man he knew who "kept a gun in the freezer, and breathed through a machine at night," and whom he once saw "turn into a goat and run around the living room." There—that explains everything.

  1. UBISOFT • Guitar Baby

    Agency: Cutwater, San Francisco
    Click to view
    Babies doing disturbingly grownup stuff—it's a tradition that goes back to the Dancing Baby of the mid-'90s, which was one of the first viral videos ever. Since then, we've had everything from the talking Baby Bob to the fun-loving Evian roller-skating babies. This year, we got a new talented tot—Ubisoft's guitar-playing baby, a dexterous little guy who mastered the Rocksmith video game practically from the moment he touched it. He also had the rock-star persona to match, pulling his dad's ear and flashing the devil horns for good measure. He's a bad seed, this one.
  2. ASSOCIATION OF FINNISH LAWYERS • Popsicle (NSFW)

    Director: Jonas Arnby
    Click to view
    Sometimes a Popsicle is not just a Popsicle. For example—the Popsicle in this spot from a lawyers' group in Finland, addressing the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Is the spot NSFW? Probably, although that's really the question it's asking. It shows a woman really, really savoring a frozen treat at the office, much to the embarrassment of her male colleagues, who can't seem to stop watching. "Is this sexual harassment?" asks the on-screen copy. "We know the answer." We never did get a definitive yes or no on that. But suffice it to say, the question itself was one of the most uncomfortable of the year.
  3. SKITTLES • Park

    Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York
    Click to view
    Sadly, TBWA lost the Skittles account this year after a marvelous string of supremely weird commercials—but not before delivering some great final global spots, including "Park," which showed giant trench-coated pigeons pecking Skittles off the ground. The ghostly pack of death-birds scatter creepily when a dog runs through, then they return to continue their feast. Comical yet unnerving—right in the brand's wheelhouse.
  4. AYUDIN • Sausage Flan

    Agency: Grey, Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Click to view
    Mmm, look at that delicious flan with the big nasty sausage sticking out of it. Would you eat that? If not, then you need Ayudin, a dish soap made by Clorox. Ayudin cleans your plates properly, so you won't have yesterday's flavors unfortunately mixing with today's food. It was a bit of a convoluted premise, but this campaign from Grey Argentina was just so oddball-awesome, it couldn't be denied. (Another ad in the series had a chocolate bar with a chewy whole-fish center.) The 1950s style of the sausage-flan spot was irresistible, too. The food, not so much.
  5. COORS LIGHT • Van Damme

    Agency: VCCP, London
    Click to view
    The year's craziest celebrity endorsement? It had to be this Coors Light spot with Jean-Claude Van Damme comparing the beer to his frozen crotch. No, seriously. Here's his dialogue verbatim: "My pants froze, and froze hard. So tight. Even thinking about it takes me back. Have you ever seen a man-penguin walk after an intense mating season? Have you? When a man's pants freeze as rock solid as mine—let me tell you, my friends, even that was nothing compared to the ice-cold refreshment of a Coors Light. Man, my pants were tight." Chatting about your tight, frozen crotch and comparing yourself to an oversexed penguin—an interesting second act for the Muscles from Brussels. Points for not taking himself too seriously.
  6. SUNTORY • Rickey

    Agency: Dentsu, Tokyo
    Click to view
    We could do a whole separate list about crazy yet oddly fascinating Japanese commercials. Instead, we'll include just this musical one—and let it speak for the country. It's for Suntory Rickey cocktails, which combine liqueur, spirits and soda with lemon, lime or other fruits that you crush yourself using a stirrer. All the women in the ad are played by the same person—Japanese TV personality Becky, who's made a name for herself as one of the country's most popular commercial actresses. (She also provided the voice of Lisa in the Japanese version of The Simpsons Movie.) Even by Japanese standards, this spot was insane. Put it on repeat, and slowly descend into a world of pleasant bubbly madness.
  7. MCAC • Rhian Touches Herself (NSFW)

    Agency: JWT, London
    Click to view
    You think a woman can't demonstrate the proper procedure for a testicular-cancer self-check ? You don't know lingerie model and Page 3 girl Rhian Sugden, whose talents know no bounds. This NSFW PSA for the Male Cancer Awareness Campaign certainly had a shocking twist—definitely one of the most ballsy ads of 2011.
  8. DEEP SILVER • Dead Island Trailer

    Agency: Axis Animation, Glasgow, Scotland
    Click to view
    This gory trailer for the zombie video game Dead Island has the distinction of being the only spot on this list that also appears on Adweek's selection of the 10 Best Commercials of 2011. (It came in at No. 7.) It depicts a zombie attack on a vacationing family—with the footage running backward in reverse time. The visual disorientation adds to the terror of the action, which is ultraviolent and set against a quietly mournful piano. Utterly horrifying yet beautifully made, it was the crossover spot of the year.
    See also: The 10 Best Commercials of 2011.
  9. DAVID LYNCH COFFEE • Barbie

    Director: David Lynch
    Click to view
    It was weird enough that David Lynch decided to market his own brand of coffee—David Lynch Signature Cup Organic Coffee. But then, perhaps not surprisingly, he gave it some even weirder advertising—this four-minute clip, in which the famed director flirts with a disembodied Barbie head as he talks about the product. Lynch has never been too fond of marketing—he once responded to a question about product placement in movies with a blunt obscenity. But here, at least, he has some fun with it. Mattel was probably less amused.
  10. HELP REMEDIES • Dream Scenarios

    Creatives: Nathan Frank (Help), Paul Caiozzo (Agencytwofifteen)
    Directors: Jason Jones, Geordie Stephens
    Click to view
    A man dressed as a dog has an emotional conflict with a chew toy. A woman steps out of a painting and has depressing sex on a girder with a man who makes weird sounds with his mouth. A chef wants to work tableside, but scabs from his face keep falling into his sausage mix. These nine ads from boutique pharma company Help Remedies were truly the oddest of the year. They promoted the company's sleep medication—called simply "Help I Can't Sleep"—by presenting odd little skits that acted out dreams you could be enjoying if only you could drift off. Except the dreams don't seem too enjoyable. In fact, they're bizarre in the extreme. That's what separates these ads from many on this list. They're legitimately, authentically peculiar, artful and risky and probably repellent to some people—not at all calculated for effect. Help Remedies has a cult following for plenty of reasons: its simple package designs, its combative relationship to Big Pharma. It also just does things for fun, and it does what it likes. These crazy ads are part of that—without a doubt the freakiest of 2011.

What did we miss? Leave a comment below.